Sunday, October 11, 2015

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

[This post is more of an experiment in creative writing as I retell my experience at the Virgil Crest 100. It is heavily influenced by several novels I've read and borrows from some of them. Click here for a more straight forward recap of the day's events.]  


04:54

 

I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves - those tiny seeds of doubt planted deep inside my cerebral cortex at such an early hour, destined to grow and blossom into a vast web of self-pity. As I slowly make my way toward the Rock Pile, those seeds are beginning to grow at an alarming rate. There seems to be a direct correlation between the arc of the sun and the declining state of my well being. Surely the mercury has not yet hit its high point of 85 degrees, but I already feel the lack of sodium intake is contributing to my loss of appetite and the dull pounding in my skull. 79 miles to go.

"Just make it to The Rock Pile."

As I plod onward I am passed by runners in the opposite direction, some looking like a million bucks and others ready to throw in the towel. As I walk up Hauck Hill Road I am reminded of my last training run on this part of the course, getting eaten alive by black flies in 90 degree heat. The flies appear to be satiated today. At least that's something positive I can dwell on for now.

I reach the end of the road and make my way through the winding singletrack to the Rock Pile aid station at mile 25. My head is still pounding and I my confidence quickly diminishing. As the orange blazed path snakes its way deep into the heart of Kennedy State Forrest, staked heads and severed limbs are exchanged for magazines. Yes! First one, then dozens of copies of Ultrarunner Magazine adorn the surrounding trees on all sides of the twisting trail. My destination must be close now.

Soon I find - rather than Mistah Kurtz's horrific compound - an aid station buffet and a gaggle of trail runners and volunteers scurrying about. Guns 'n Roses' Appetite For Destruction is blasting on a boombox. That's right - the whole album in it's entirety. On a battery powered CD player.

I grab some watermelon and orange slices in an attempt to rehydrate and down some sodium capsules with ginger in them, breaking the cardinal rule of not trying anything new during a race. The AS captain "performs some triage" (her words, not mine) by quizzing me on my name and address. Apparently deeming me fit to continue, she allows me to grab a seat on the rock pile marking the top of Virgil Mountain. The headache persists and my body feels no better, so I decide the only thing to do I is to push through it. "We ain't gettin' any younger," or so they say. I grab my pack and take off from whence I came, following the magazine trail back toward the dirt road as Axl's sweet timber slowly fades away.

Well well well, you never can tell
Well well well, my Michelle!


01:15


At the aid station tent the scene is a hectic one. By mile 6.3, the runners are not yet strung out along the course and arrive nearly en masse as volunteers scramble to record bib numbers and fill bottles. It seems that everyone's crew is here save my own. Located a mere mile up the road from race HQ, The Hitching Post is commandeered by Finger Lakes Runners Club members selfless enough to get out of bed at some ungodly hour without even the reward of squeezing in an early morning run themselves. For these people I am grateful.

I make sure Jim Miner records my number. The 4-7-1 pinned to the anterior aspect of my proximal femur is now as much a part of my identity as my name and SSN. I am nonexistent to the entity that is Virgil Crest without that unique numerical value as a piece of my profile. To have never been assigned that number would be to have never been born. To remove it would be suicide.

I swap my handheld for my Ultimate Direction vest and opt to carry the headlamp in the pack, rather than leave it in my drop bag as originally planned. The 20 ounce bottle was enough to get from the start to this point, since very little water was needed in the early morning. But now I'm leaving with double the water and an arsenal of gels and nut butter packets at my disposal to supplement the aid station grub. "Thank you, volunteers!" I yell out as I run up the slope across Clute Road and toward the trailhead. I'm out in two minutes and on the hunt for Rusty.


13:40


"I heard about the Forest Frolic when I was training for my first marathon in the summer of 2011," I found myself telling Gary. "It looked like fun so I signed up and came in totally unprepared. I mean, I, uh, wore old road shoes on the trails so my newer pair wouldn't get dirty or torn up or anything. I suffered big time and enjoyed it so much I ran the Monster half two months later."

Gary and I are running and walking the singletrack as dusk is rapidly approaching. The first of my three pacers, chronologically, Gary will see me through TenKate's Crossing at mile 63.4. As a longtime race volunteer and perennial 100 mile relay runner, Gary knows the course well enough and manages the dark forest efficiently. Feeling pretty solid and with a long stretch of trail time looming, I decide to narrate to him my history of trail running.

"That Monster half marathon was even tougher and probably didn't help me much in finishing my first marathon. That was the Empire State Marathon by the way. But by the next summer I was hooked on trails and finally in July of '13 I ran the Finger Lakes 50s for my first ultra. It was epic"

And so it went, spilling my life-on-the-trails story to pass the time. In turn, Gary regales me with tales of glory and woe from different years with his relay team. The team was always the same group of five guys and they even pulled off the win one year. Gary explains how this year three of his four teammates were suffering injuries and in no position to run. He was excited when I sent out my S.O.S for pacers since he'd have the chance to run through part of the night on the Virgil course.

"Oh yeah and I got stung in the arm by a yellow jacket that first time I ran..."


-00:02


        I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
        Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
        Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
        Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

- William Shakespere.
Henry V. III.i.1122-25


00:52


I feel fortunate to be moving at the same pace as Rusty, sharing tails of the trails to pass the time in the early stages. Rusty is a local trail runner who I met last year through the Finger Lakes Runners Club, seeking his first 100 mile finish, same as me. He orates in detail his experience at the TransRockies Run a few months previous, a trip he made with his girlfriend and Jeney and Adam. I listen in earnest as he tells me about the treacherous terrain and thin air high in the Colorado mountains, and describes the sweeping landscape of peaks and valleys that simply don't exist anywhere east of the Mississippi. Rusty's stories make me want to head west more than ever.


-00:01


"Let's go."

- Rancid.
From "Let's Go" on the album Let's Go. 1994. Epitaph Records.


07:36


I am somewhere around Virgil Mountain Road on the edge of Greek Peak when the drug begins to take hold. I remember thinking something like "I feel a bit more clearheaded. Maybe you should speed up..." It is almost 2:00 p.m. and I still have more than 60 miles to go. They will be tough miles.

Caffeine can do wonders for the body in certain situations, and the hit I got from my bottle of mate at TrailsRoc Junction felt wonderful indeed. In a matter of minutes the headache vanished, my vision cleared, and the fatigue melted off into the dirt.

I am still in the early stages of the race, but I feel like I'm all business powering my way back through that meat grinder Ian likes to call The Alpine Section. The 2,200 feet of gain and 2,900 feet of loss between TrailRoc and TenKate's have nothing on me and my solid power hike. Coming through the trails on the ski resort, I match my pace with a few other guys - one fellow 100-miler and a couple of 50-milers. For the life of me, as I write this I can't recall what banter ensued, but I know it helped to pass the time.

"Anyone want to bomb down this thing Crosby-style?" one guy asks as we stare down the face of Odyssey - the steep, black diamond ski slope we are about to descend either precariously or recklessly. Knowing that he is referring to Cole Crosby's superb downhill tactics, I politely decline and begin to pick my way down the 25-30 percent grade, all the while minding my steps to save some spunk in the ol' quadriceps for later. Yep, it's still only loop one and I'll be descending this beast again sometime tomorrow, most likely in the dark.


21:35


The light through the trees feels so strong, the pull so irresistible, that we decide it must be the incandescent glow of the aid station tent. We get closer and closer, and see that the light is bobbing up and down and left and right. False alarm - the light is a solitary headlamp strapped to some lonely soul lacking a pacer, approaching us in retrograde fashion back to Trailsroc Junction.

Once in earshot, Jeney yells out to our nocturnal comrade and we discover it's none other than Rusty. We exchange a few words, perhaps some "Great jobs," and move on, too tired for conversation proper. Only a few minutes later it's deja vu, but this time the approaching runner is Rob.

It's been like this ever since TenKate's. We see a runner heading in our direction and speculate on who it might be or whether it's a relay runner or a soloist. First it was the 100 mile leader, a middle aged guy running sans pacer. Next, a woman who was absolutely killing it in second place overall and looking tough as nails. At one point we encountered Scotie Jacobs and his pacer Ryan. In the dark, the pair looked like twins with their shaggy hair and identical royal blue Red Newt singlets.

"Well done Pete!" Rob makes his presence known with his trademark phrase of encouragement. We stop and talk for a bit and Rob assures us that he's doing just fine on his own and will be picking up a pacer later on. Upon leaving Rob, it dawns on me that the 74 miles I've covered so far is a long distance to travel. I mutter something about this aloud. Jeney concurs, cheerfully.


27:52


"Virgil Crest!" I scream, mustering one last ounce of energy to address my foe with the utmost sincerity. "To the last I will grapple with thee. From Hell's heart I stab at thee!" And with that, I fling myself up from the coffin-like camping chair and charge like a madman down the road to complete the race or die trying. Bewildered spectators stare, jaws agape, at this scarred, war-torn megalomaniac on a suicide mission to destroy his White Whale.

At least that's how I had planned things in my head over the past 24 hours. With so much time to be alone with my thoughts, I had spent hours dreaming up the most climactic of scenarios to cap off the race, charging out of the final aid station in spectacular fashion. In reality, I'm still feeling pretty good here at mile 93.7 and decide to spare Hayley the embarrassment of having to explain her husband's psychopathic tendencies to a group of innocent bystanders. So rather than performing Melvillian theatrics, I simply walk up the dirt path with Aaron in tow as we make our way into the woods. We leave the Hitching Post for the final time with a respectable amount of fanfare for this common midpack man.

The next several miles become something of a blur. The sun is out now, and the cool, mid-morning breeze feels great on my skin. I walk a lot while Aaron "suggests" running from time to time. I begin to have visions of grandeur and fantasies of catching Rusty in this final stretch, but the time spent walking all but guarantees this as an impossibility.


20:17


Is it the warm glow of the tent lights or the actual heat from the campfire that make it so difficult to leave? A small handful of runners find solace in the darkness at TrailsRoc Junction, attracted to the activity in the clearing like moths to a stadium light. Jeney chats with the TrailsRoc volunteers while I struggle to remove my shoes and socks, repeatedly waving off any offered assistance. As I finally yank the socks off, there appears to be no damage to my waterlogged feet. I silently down some Guayaki Yerba Mate and rearrange my pack as I wait for my feet to dry out. The arduous process of sock swapping may rack up some time on the clock now, but I know the blister prevention will be worth it later on.

Someone refills my bottles - one with fresh water, the other with ice for my Tailwind concoction - while I down a few cups of veggie broth. The heated broth hits me like a slug to the chest, shocking back to life any and all fibers of my being that had any notion of calling it quits.

I look around for Amy. Nowhere to be seen, I figure she's getting some much deserved sleep at her campsite a hundred yards away.

Finally I deem my feet dry enough to squeeze on a fresh pair of socks. Once the Salomon's are laced up, I grab some cold salt potatoes and some fruit and join the others up close by the fire. My legs are already stiffening up from sitting for 15 minutes or so. Jeney does not push me to head out immediately, even though the next five mile stretch to the Rock Pile should be the easiest section of the course.

***

I first met Jeney earlier this summer during the final miles of the Forest Frolic. We had previously crossed paths while collecting GPS data for the Cayuga Trails course, but that meeting was brief. At the Frolic, we pushed each other over the final two miles to a strong finish while making small-talk about Vibram Fivefingers and such. As we hit the final half mile stretch of dirt road, my competitive instinct kicked in. My first thought was to make a mad dash for the finish, but then decided it may go against the spirit of trail running. As it turned out, she had the same idea and we found ourselves picking up the pace on the final straightaway.

Now it's on.

Before I knew it, we were running something like a 5:00 mile with the finish line in sight. Thinking of the legendary Roger Bannister's late stage heroics, I put in one final surge, sure that it would bury her. Suddenly she was in front and I was out of time, finishing less than a second behind. Afterward, I was amazed to learn that she'd only been running for a few years, rather than competitively in college like I'd assumed given the strong finishing kick. Afterward, I met her fiance Adam and we hung out for a bit before I set out to run the Frolic course again, alone, and was subsequently feasted upon by the black flies. The idea of her pacing me at Virgil came about months later during a pub run.

***

Somehow I am still riding the same buzz that began in this same spot at mile 30. The preceding 40 miles did not bring the doom and gloom I'd been fully expecting, but rather a steady flow of dopamine and heightened sense of awareness. Jeney seemed as astounded as I was that I had not hit any low point since long before I picked her up as my second pacer. The conversation over the previous few hours was, surprisingly, entirely two way.

Finally I strap my Ultimate Direction vest back on and tell Jeney it's time. We exchange goodbye-for-nows with the all-night volunteers and set off for the Rock Pile in near darkness. The conversation continues and I am feeling much better now than I did when leaving TrailRoc Junction at mile 20.


23:15


"Number 471!" I call out my bib number just as I do when approaching any of the aid stations. Gary and I hop the guardrail and make our way into the tent at TenKate's, seeking reprieve from the elements despite the rain having stopped several minutes ago. Jeney greets me, ready to run after waiting around for the last two hours. My buddy Nick, volunteering on the graveyard shift, refills my water and Tailwind bottles and makes sure I get enough food.

I quickly learn that my drop bag here is completely soaked, rendering my extra shirt useless. Somehow the volunteers learn of my plan to have Gary and Maria return with Aaron's jacket. As I pull out my phone to call Aaron, one of the volunteers hands me a bright orange, waterproof Mammut jacket. "Here, just use this if it fits," she orders me. In no mood to argue with a commanding officer, I fumble around until I get the thing over my torso. The jacket fits pretty well and seems like it'll keep me dry enough. I thank her and learn her name, Zsusana, so I can make sure to return it later.

At some point, Gary and I exit the tent so Maria can get a picture of us where the lighting is better. I thank them both profusely. Before long, Jeney and I are making our way across the rising Gridley Creek and up the steep, muddy switchbacks - the beginning of the Alpine Section redux. With the jacket I feel reborn, and the fresh pacer helps to speed things along as we continue up and out.


29:25


Aaron peels off to the side and I cross beneath the Virgil Crest banner. The clapping and cheering seem deafening at the moment as I do my best to leap over the finish line and embrace Hayley with a big hug. Mom is there too, and I forget who else. Ian puts down the Go Pro to give me a congratulatory hug before handing me that sweet, sweet belt buckle.

Eventually I sit down to tear off my socks and shoes. I fully expected to feel exhausted after 100 miles and nearly a day and a half of no sleep. Au contraire, I remain fully jacked on adrenaline and look around to take it all in. Rusty and I exchange some stories, and after a few minutes we both rise to give Rob a standing round of applause as he comes into the finish with his daughter. I decline assistance from Hayley, Mom, and Aaron as I hobble into the pavilion to grab some hot food.

A nice breeze comes across the small lake as we sit by the finish line with plates of food awaiting the other runners. The sun occasionally peaks it's head out from under its cloudy cover, as if trying to break free and regale us with the last throws of summer. Yesterday's afternoon heat has long since vanished. And here and there a stray orange leaf litters the ground around the pavilion. The first signs of Autumn indeed. And I think to myself, "Was there ever a better day for a walk in the woods?"


04:03


The punishing hike up The Odyssey is especially brutal and we're only four hours into the run. The black diamond ski slope the few of us are now ascending is comprised of something like 700 feet of ascent in under a half mile. Several other runners slog up the mountainside next to me, but we all remain silent for the most part. I glance back down the slope and spot Rusty at the base, about to make his ascent.

Running the Whiteface SkyMarathon and Vertical K have certainly helped me prepare for this part of Virgil. All the climbing and descending on Whiteface Mountain has led to improved form and efficiency on the uphills, plus it's prepared my mind for the daunting task at hand. I also heed Yassine Diboun's advice of "hike like you're late for work," trying to maintain a steady effort as the slope begins to get steeper. I think of Yassine's recent second place at Cascade Crest, and how he must have had it so much worse than me while running a Hardrock qualifier in the cold rain.

Not even halfway up The Odyssey I'm duly passed by Rusty. My five minute head start is no match for his strong climbing skills. With the summit now in sight, the grade steepens to over 30 percent and every muscle in my legs feels weaker and weaker. I make that final push up to level ground and look around at the lift station and surround woods and trails, ensuring that there's no possibility of any more incline. That monster climb took a lot out of me, and I begin to doubt my ability to make that climb again later on. Meanwhile, things heat up as the sun begins to beat down while approaching its apex.


26:39


"Well done Pete!" Rob declares as I slow to a walk. We had been tailing the duo for the better part of an hour, occasionally catching glimpses of Emily's bright pink jacket between the trees as we made up ground.

"Thanks. You're looking pretty solid yourself." I ask Rob if they'd like to run with us, inviting the possibility of us finishing together provided we can move at an equal pace for the final 11 miles. Rob tells me his feet have been killing him for the last several hours and to go on without him. Aaron and I decide to pull on ahead. Rob's been here before and I know he'll have no qualms about finishing the thing off.

For some reason the next mile feels excruciatingly long. I know there is an unmanned water stop at the Cortland 9 road crossing, marking mile 90. I start to get this idea that with each step toward those water jugs we also take a step back. It's as if I'm some pulsating orb and the direct line segment between my center of gravity and the water continues to elongate and foreshorten in moderately rapid succession, forestalling any forward progress toward that water stop. I feel my sense of time and distance beginning to wane while my train of coherent thought becomes shorter and shorter.

After an eternity we make it to the water - a dozen gallon jugs on the side of the trail, 20 feet from the road. I top off my bottles and suddenly snap back into it. I'm struck by the realization that the remaining mileage is now down to single digits. With that thought in the forefront of my consciousness, we pick up the pace toward the penultimate aid station.



16:11


Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
And where have you been my darling young one?


It's really quite incredible, headlamp running, the way the entire universe shrinks to a ten foot radius. Nothing exists beyond the reaches of that single beam of light, concentrated on the dirt immediately in front of you. Gone are the surrounding trees. Only some of their roots remain, the roots that lackadaisically cross the the forest path in hazardous fashion, waiting to prey upon the careless runner who becomes too lost in his own world to live stay present in the moment - in that tiny universe with a volume of a mere 4000 π/3 ft 3.

I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains

I mention something of this to Gary as we plod on through the heavy rain. Over slippery roots and crevasses through the most technical stretch on the course, and hampered by my fatigue from the 50-something cumulative miles, we are sullenly reduced to a walk.

I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways

I realized as soon as the rain hit that I was stupid not to take Aaron up on his offer to borrow his waterproof jacket. I came to the start completely unprepared for precipitation, as the weather report two days earlier made no mention of any possible shower. Now I'm freezing cold as the rain beats down on us through the trees. Even with fresh legs and a warm jacket, running here would be risky due to limited visibility through the rain and Gary's glasses than keep fogging up.

I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests

At first the rain felt good. We were both sweating fairly hard even after the sun bid us adieu, so the rain helped cool things down quite a bit. But now it's too much. As the early stages of hypothermia loom in the distance, Gary tries to help me focus by pointing out the mileage remaining to Carson Road. Once out of the woods, it's a mile downhill on paved road and then we'll cruise into TenKate's Crossing at mile 63 where I'll change clothes, warm up, and pick up Jeney as pacer number two. The problem is we aren't out of the woods just yet.

I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans

My hands are shaking uncontrollably as I clumsily open and suck down a gel. Gary warns me that the next leg, the brutal Alpine Section, is mostly exposed to the elements. The steep terrain and slow pace would ensure a ton of time in the direct rain. My spirits begin to sink as I realize that without a waterproof jacket I'll probably end up a DNF - another casualty of Mother Nature's cruel sense of humor.

I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard

It's then that I'm hit with the solution, as clear as day. I nervously ask Gary for an additional favor. "Is there any chance you'd be willing to go back to Hope Lake to get Aaron's jacket, then bring it back to TenKate's while I wait there and warm up? I'll call Aaron and let him know you're coming, to have it ready." Hope Lake is only a mile uphill from TenKate's Crossing by paved road. Aaron is attempting to sleep there in the back of my car before his turn for pacing duties, but I doubt he'd be asleep and awoken by my call.

And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.


Gary is sure Maria, who was picking him up, would agree to my plan. Suddenly I'm back in the game and the dirty driving rain doesn't feel so bad. Before I know it, we're running downhill on blacktop and, wouldn't you believe it, the rain has stopped! We pause to watch a deer stare us down with it's spooky yellow eyes caught in the glare of our headlamps. The deer watches us for a moment, then scurries off as we do the same. It's all downhill from here!

And what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what'll you do now my darling young one?



29:17


It feels so different to step off the dirt trail and onto asphalt for the final time. The blisters of my forefeet begin to hurt more than ever on the solid surface. The pain, however, is immediately masked by the realization that I'm now in the final mile of the race. The only thing standing between me and personal victory is a mile of flat, paved pathway that runs counterclockwise around the edge of Hope Lake.

"I'm telling you, we can catch that guy!" Aaron pronounces as I begin the slow jog around the lakeside. About half a mile down the path are two other runners - clearly a hundred miler about to finish along side his pacer. The pair is walking up what barely qualifies as an incline. I know that picking off the other guy is futile, but decide to go along with it anyhow. The eleven minute per mile pace I manage feels more like 5K pace by this time. I maintain my pace up that incline. At the same time the other runner crosses the finish line, although I can't see him because of the trees blocking my line of vision.

I round the final curve, the finish now in my direct line of sight, and wait for a flood of uncontrollable emotion that, inexplicably, fails to make an appearance.

I continue to push onward and leave the asphalt for the grassy lane that leads straight to the end of the line. A crowd of spectators and volunteers are clapping and cheering, Hayley among them, while Ian records the finish on his Go Pro. The last few seconds become a blur and a feeling of relief washes over me. I'm ready to stop moving forward.


21:56


What a difference 50 miles can make during a hundo! On my last visit to the Rock Pile, I was already deep inside the dreaded pain cave cursing the course and the masochist who designed it. At mile 25, I could only imagine what degenerate state I'd arrive in at mile 75. Well now, 16 hours later I have my answer.

I feel phenomenal! The five miles since TrailsRoc were easy going, albeit slow, but the bonk that occurred after TrailRoc on the first go-around decided not to reappear here in the wee hours of the morning. Jeney has been keeping me moving forward from one aid station to the next.

Tim Hardy, CBA, is captaining the Rock Pile. I've known Tim for a few years as the race director of the Green Lakes Endurance Runs. I recently learned that Tim had earned his Certification in Badassery a few years ago by completing the Arrowhead 135 and Badwater in the same calendar year. Simply unbelievable! And here I am, fumbling my way through a minuscule hundred miles in a temperate climate.

Tim sits in a camping chair puffing on a big cigar, looking exhausted. I don't blame the guy - it's 4:00 a.m. for Christ's sake. Tim recognizes me once I tell him that I ran the Green Lakes 100K three week prior. Jeney and I are the only runners here so we receive undivided attention from the other two volunteers. They go through their entire list of edible inventory and try to push food on us like it's a visit to my grandmother's. I'm told the salty bacon will taste especially delectable at this time of night.

I settle for orange slices and the last dregs of salt potatoes and decide not to hang around for too long. We thank everyone profusely and head back out into the void.


25:50


"If you're going through Hell, keep going."

The well known quote often attributed to Winston Churchill is now immortalized on a cardboard sign at TenKate's Crossing. As someone who is not currently going through Hell, does this mean I can call it a day and catch a ride home? But doing so would then, by process of deduction, admit that I am in fact going through Hell, and a paradox ensues. So the only logical option, then, is to continue moving regardless of weather or not one is going through Hell. Makes total sense, no?

Jeney has come full circle, ending her pacing duties where they began. As we cross the creek and roll into TenKate's, I'm oblivious to the chilly creek water permeating my shoes once again. Aaron is here, ready to head out immediately. I quickly explain that we passed two guys on the alpine section a few miles back and would like to leave before they arrive. Aaron fires back that two other guys left here 10 to 15 minutes ago, a few minutes apart from one another. One guy is being paced by his daughter, and I deduce that it must be Rob and Emily.

I use that piece of current events to my advantage and it motivates me to move out in under three minutes. I clumsily hop the guardrail and we head east down NYS route 392 in pursuit of Rob, catching a glimpse of him and Emily from the base of Carson Road. Throughout the mile long walk up Carson, I fill Aaron in on everything that transpired overnight and explain how the thought of passing a few more runners can will me to a quicker finishing time. We reach the road's plateau and swing left into the woods for the final time, following the white blazed Finger Lakes Trail as it twists, turns, and dances majestically through the forest. This time the trail leads not into an immense Heart of Darkness, but rather to the aptly named Hope Lake - the fantastic beaming light at the end of the tunnel and the heart of all things radiant.

 

??:??


I am sitting across the table from my beautiful wife Hayley, preparing to inhale copious amounts calories. The four blocks we just walked from the car to Viva Taqueria were painful.  Freshly lanced blisters on my forefoot, bilaterally, sent waves of agony to my brain with each and every step. Fortunately the prospect of a massive burrito made bearable the quarter mile trek along the outskirt of the Ithaca Commons.

Hayley has already told me how proud she is that I gutted it out for 29 hours and change. As I think about what I just accomplished, a few hours after the fact, it does strike me as pretty absurd. In a race where the annual finishing rate fluctuates around 50 percent, I find it almost hard to believe that I am one of only 16 to earn a belt buckle today.

Sitting at the dinner table, I try to reflect again on why I would go through with so much self imposed punishment. I know in my mind that it has something to do with exploring the boundaries of human endurance, discovering one's absolute breaking point, and then basking in the afterglow of a deep sense of accomplishment. Every endurance athlete will tell you this. Yet we all subject ourselves to the pain and uncertainty for our own unique reasons that make sense only to the individual in some abstract thought process. The true answer hovers just out of reach, "somewhere beyond the right frame" as DFW might say.

I've already been asked several times today about whether or not I'd do another 100 mile run or maybe something even longer. I consider my future as a trail runner for a brief moment. Then Hayley and I cut into our meals as we fall into conversation about –


00:00


The crisp morning air surrounds us, here on the cusp of another Upstate New York Autumn. A restless crowd or runners make nervous small talk amongst each other as the orange LED clock lights indicate that the hour is nearly upon us. Those final few seconds tick down. On Ian's command, a chorus of digital beeps sound in unison. The crowd swells forward and we are off.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep.


Smile... Tomorrow Will Be Worse: The Virgil Crest 100

[This is one of two race recaps I wrote about the 2015 Virgil Crest Ultras. Click here for the other, which is more an experiment in creative writing than a conventional race report. Click here to read the race itinerary document I created for my crew. ]


One late September evening, while volunteering to provide food and assistance to a bunch of runners at the Hitching Post, is when I first got the itch. I decided then and there that I'd like to run this thing as a 100 mile debutante. It felt so epic just to be there, filling water bottles for 100 mile runners coming into mile 44 or 56 late in the evening. Knowing what these warriors had already endured, and what trials lie ahead throughout the night, brought a certain level of respect for all those attempting to go the distance. Having marked half the course the day before, I knew it wouldn't be easy. I'd have loved to spend the night at the aid station if I didn't have to leave at 10:00 PM to go to work at the hospital.


I spent nine months training for the 100, starting in late January, and come September 19 I was ready to go. My successful run at the Green Lakes 100K three weeks prior gave me some much needed confidence going into Virgil Crest, while the adverse weather conditions and uphill battles at the Whiteface SkyMarathon in late June helped me prepare mentally. After scrambling last minute to finalize my pacer situation, I had created a step by step game plan to help me get through this monumental task. The night before the race, I drove out to Virgil for packet pickup and to check out a few parts of the course. I went home and slept surprisingly well that night, given the amount of self imposed pressure I felt.

The calm before the storm: Sunset over Hope Lake on race day eve

 

The Course


The Virgil Crest Ultras begins at Hope Lake Park in the tiny, rural town of Virgil, NY. The route cuts over to the adjacent Tuller Hill State Forest, following some horse trails and the Finger Lakes Trail. Runners then descend a paved road and cross NYS Route 392 into Greek Peak territory. This alpine section is comprised of several ski slopes and steep trails and utility roads. After leaving the mountain, the Virgil course cuts into Kennedy State Forest and follows the orange blazed Finger Lakes trail to the top of Virgil Mountain at mile 25. Runners then reverse the course back to Hope Lake. 50 milers are done here; 100 milers have the pleasure of doing the whole thing again. The 100 mile race has an overall cutoff time of 36 hours, with pacers allowed for the second half. Virgil Crest is one of many trail races presented by Red Newt Racing and created and directed by Ian Golden.

3-D course map, designed by Jim Devona

 

The Race

 

The lot of us set out from hope lake in the 6:00 am darkness, headlamps ablaze to light the way for the first hour or so. 50 and 100 mile runners all started together, with 100 mile relay runners starting two hours later. The line of headlamps winding tightly around the lake's perimeter would have made for a great aerial view. Imagine a hovering UFO above the lake, its occupants watching the string of lights bobbing and weaving around the paved path and off into the woods. 

It's was all fun and games while runners laughed and joked around in the early miles, and before long the sun crested the eastern horizon, allowing us all to switch our headlamps off. I ran some of these miles with my friend Rusty, whom I marked the course with the year before. Rusty told me about his recent trip out to Colorado to run the TransRockies stage race and about his experience at UROC the year before. With all those mountainous miles under his belt only a month earlier, I was impressed that Rusty was now attempting his first 100 mile race.

I more or less blew right through the Hitching Post aid station at mile 6.3, stopping only to exchange my Ultimate Direction handheld bottle for my UD vest. I decided to carry double the water and triple the calories for the race's remainder. All the Finger Lakes Runners Club volunteers at this aid station were awesome at this first stop, as they were throughout the race over the next day and a half.

Somewhere in the early miles. Photo: Steve Gallow
The miles flew by all the way through the dreaded alpine section. The third and final major climb up Greek Peak was on The Odyssey - a black diamond ski trail with a 25-30 percent grade. I tried my best to power hike up the thing, using the climbing skills I practiced earlier this summer at the Whiteface SkyMarathon and Vertical Kilometer. The ascent sapped up a ton of energy and I was passed by Rusty around the halfway point despite having a five minute lead over him at the base. Upon reaching level terrain at the summit, I was forced to walk awhile to regain some energy and composure. I think this was the beginning of my early bonk.

The next stretch, from mile 20 to mile 30, was the roughest of the 100. The crash set in almost immediately after leaving TrailsRoc Junction outbound and lasted until I left the aid station again in the inbound direction. Coming into TrailsRoc the first time, 50 mile leader Cole Crosby was on his way out. Yep, less than four hours into the race and he already had gapped me by 10 miles. 

Photo: Steve Gallow
I felt like a slug for the next two hours, struggling to move forward at all. I think the heat was getting to me and I wasn't talking in enough sodium. I remember wondering how he hell I could keep this up for another 70+ miles when I felt so bad so early.

As I neared the 25 mile turnaround at the Rock Pile, the trail was adorned with copies of Ultrarunner Magazine hanging from the trees while Guns 'n Roses' Appetite For Destruction blared from a trailside boombox. It was like some sort of college dorm prank set deep in the heart of Kennedy State Forest. I again found many familiar faces at the aid station, but the salt and fruit I took in didn't provide any magical comeback. I sat down for a bit, then left while still feeling like death.

I somehow found myself back at TrailsRoc Junction, where I changed shirts and chugged some yerba mate. The #TrailRoc volunteers here were great, as always. I'm hoping to check out some of the club's events in the Rochester area sometime next year.

Look down into the valley close enough and you can spot the finish line.

Gridley Creek at TenKate's Crossing.
Photo: Gloria Lemus-Sanchez

Immediately upon leaving the mile 30 aid station I started feeling invincible, which I'll attribute to the caffeine. I met up with a pack of guys moving at my pace and together we powered through the alpine section. One of these guys told me he was running the 50M as his first foot race of any distance beyond a 10K.

Sweaty mountaintop selfie
Eventually I made it through TenKate's crossing at mile 36 and came into the Hitching Post at mile 43.7. Knowing that Hayley would be here kept me moving for the last few hours. She was nice enough to bring me an avocado and hot sauce sandwich, one of my favorite snacks but something I've never tried eating during a run. Gary, the first of my three pacers, was here as a volunteer. My mom and Aaron met me here too, and seeing everyone really lifted my spirits a lot. After I left the tent, the others drove a mile down the road to the race headquarters at Hope Lake - the start, finish, and halfway point aid station. Gary would jump in as pacer when I arrived.

Prior to the race, I had given my crew explicit instructions to get me out of that mile 50 aid station STAT. The rules for Virgil Crest stipulate that anyone who completes the first 50 miles within the allotted cutoff time of 17 hours before dropping will be counted as a 50 mile finisher. Although officially a 100M DNF, I'd still have a completed ultra under my belt if I decide to throw in the towel at Hope Lake. This fact, coupled with the siren call of delicious hot food and 50 milers celebrating their finishes, was enough to make me paranoid about opting for an easy exit from the pain cave. The plan was to refill my water bottles, grab some fruit for the road, and immediately leave town with Gary before the notion of dropping could even manifest itself in my consciousness. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and ultrarunners.

Thankfully the buzz I had going since mile 30 had not yet dissipated. I took longer than I wanted to at Hope Lake but never felt even the slightest urge to quit. Gary was a great pacer for the next section, keeping me moving forward while keeping up a conversation to distract me from the discomfort. The heat and humidity continued to make things difficult even after sundown. We were both sweating quite a bit, but that would soon change. 

Back at the Hitching Post at mile 56.3, I was again greeted by Hayley and Aaron. Aaron offered me his waterproof jacket as he heard there would be guaranteed rain. For reasons unclear to me even now, I repeatedly declined. This cloudy decision would haunt me soon enough and nearly ruin my race. 

Shortly after leaving the Hitching Post the steady rain began to fall. At first it felt refreshing, cooling down my skin and core temperature. But before long the precipitation would become almost unbearable. In the dark with limited visibility, we were forced to walk through the most technical terrain Virgil had to offer. We slowly picked our way over crevasses and slick roots as Gary's glasses kept fogging up. I began shaking uncontrollably from the cold and could barely manage to open and eat a gel. Aaron's jacket would have undoubtedly been a blessing at this stage. 

Gary reminded me about the exposed parts of the course coming up in the alpine section. Without the cover of trees on the steep slopes, the rain would be pouring down in buckets on my head as I slowly suffered through the unforgiving terrain. I knew then that I'd be a sure DNF if I couldn't track down a jacket. 

Gary agreed to go with Maria to retrieve Aaron's jacket while I waited under the shelter at TenKate's Crossing, eating and trying to dry off and warm up. Aaron was attempting to sleep in my car at Hope Lake while the rain beat down on the windshield. I'd call him to let him know Gary would be coming up for the jacket. 

As Gary and I hopped out of the road to turn down Carson Road, the rain stopped. I was thankful for the reprieve but still freezing cold and soaking wet. We ran the mile downhill into TenKate's crossing at mile 63. As we passed the 100K mark, it was now officially the longest distance I've ever run continuously.

My drop bag at TenKate's was soaking wet, so changing my shirt and socks was out of the question. I switched pacers from Gary to Jeney. One of the AS volunteers from Mountain Peak Fitness selflessly lent me a Mammut rain jacket, not really giving me a choice but to take it. My friend Nick grabbed me some broth and filled my bottles. I found out that once the rain started runners started dropping like flies; now only 16 of us remained. Jeney had been waiting for two hours and was ready to go. 

We made short work of the Alpine Section and I remained in good spirits as we arrived at TrailsRoc Junction at mile 70. I'd been timing my stops at each aid station. By the time I traded water logged socks for dry ones, restocked my pack, and warmed up by the fire, we spent nearly half an hour at the aid station. I had been doing okay at keeping my AS times low, but this time I felt like I needed the extra rest. 

The time passed pretty quickly over the next several hours. My phone battery died as I tried to take a picture of the sunrise from atop the mountain. With Jeney's encouragement I passed two runners on the Alpine Section around mile 82, moving into the top 10. Despite trying to avoid a competetive mindset, the prospect of a top 10 finish gave me the energy lift I needed to keep moving as I accelerated on a long downhill stretch. I came into TenKate's Crossing feeling strong. 

Aaron was ready to pace me for the final half marathon and we moved out quickly. From the base of Carson Road I caught a glimpse of my friend Rob up ahead. Aaron and I walked the hill and then hit the trail running, albeit slowly. I had last been on this stretch of trail with Gary, moving in the other direction in the rain. Now it was much later, but the sun was out and I was almost home. 

The technical nature of the FLT made things tricky, but we soldiered on and passed Rob after a few miles, along with his daughter Emily who was pacing him to the end. I invited them to join us, but Rob's feet were hurting and he told me to continue on without him. 

Somehow I lost all sense of time and perceived distance during this leg and felt like we were moving fast and going nowhere. In reality, we were moving pretty slowly and gone was my ability to perform simple math calculations after 27 hours and 90 miles. I kept looking at my watch, certain that we were closer to the final aid station than we actually were. I could feel some blisters developing near the balls of both feet, and soon every step was slightly painful. By this point I didn't care. 

I rolled into the Hitching Post for the last time still feeling pretty good. 94 miles down, just a measly little 10K to go. Hayley met me here again after driving home for a night of restless sleep. She was excited that I was looking solid and feeling so strong at this stage in the race. I swapped my UD pack for the trusty handheld in order to lighten the load. I didn't hang around long to rest up; At the next stop I could finally quit moving altogether. 

 

The Finish

 

The last section was mostly a blur. I remember shuffling forward in silence for awhile to reflect on the day and take it all in. At some point Aaron ran up ahead on an incline. At the top he turned back and yelled to me "This is it! The last hill. Just downhill and around the lake to the finish." Knowing there was only about a mile to go was an amazing feeling. Trading singletrack for pavement for the last time felt better yet. We rounded Hope Lake counterclockwise via a paved path - the same path I had set out on 99 miles ago. We saw another runner with his pacer less than half a mile ahead of us. In a race this long, runners separated by only a few minutes is comparable a few seconds difference in a road marathon.

Aaron and I rounded the final curve and I veered into the grass for the straightaway, trying my best to appear strong as people clapped and yelled. I crossed under the finish line banner in 29:25 and feebly jumped into Hayley's waiting arms for a hug. My mom was there too, having driven back up from Johnson City to watch the finish. 


It felt so good to finally get off my feet and shed the shoes. (The Salomon Sense Pros performed very well for the distance and type of terrain.) Keeping with the tradition of 100 mile races, Ian awarded me a belt buckle for my efforts, as he did with all the hundo finishers. I grabbed some hot food and made myself at home in a camping chair by the finish line for the next hour, standing to applaud Rob and Emily as they came in soon after me. 

After several plates of veggie burgers, portabello burgers, salad, and potatoes, it was time for a massage. Dale Cooper, local LMT extraordinaire, was available for finish line massages like he usually is at Ian's races. Let's just say that the massage was so much more excruciatingly painful than anything I endured during the 100 miles or in any other race ever. In other words it was what I expected. Completely torturous and totally worth it. 

 

The Aftermath 

 

The completion of Virgil Crest brings my nine months of training and preparation to and end. I'd have to say, looking back several weeks later, than my run couldn't have gone any better than it did. After hearing so many horrific tales from 100 mile veterans, I was totally expecting to bonk many times, have stomach issues, mental meltdowns, and unbearable pain with every step after mile 75. Aside from some minor blisters there was no pain or injuries. Despite getting pretty tired, I never bonked after the mile 30 rebound, never hallucinated, and never came close to breaking down into a sobbing mess. I attribute the lack of GI issues to sticking with calories than have always worked in the past - primarily Justin's Nut Butter, Tailwind, GU Roctane gels, Guayaki yerba mate, S-Caps, salt potatoes, and assorted fruit from the aid stations. I took in a good mix of simple carbs, fat, and electrolytes from these sources, plus the occasional caffeine boost as needed. 

With the hundred under my belt I haven't decided yet what's next, besides some much needed R&R. I have no idea how long a full recovery will take and don't want to rush back into anything. Four weeks after Virgil Crest, that deep sense of accomplishment still lingers heavily, and the buckle is a constant reminder that anything is possible if one is willing to dedicate the time and effort. 

The list of people who helped see me through this thing is long. I couldn't have made it without Hayley, who selflessly supported me throughout the entire training process with all those hours and miles spent in the woods. Thank you Mom for driving up to "check up" on me in the evening and again at the finish. My pacers Gary, Jeney, and Aaron kept me moving in the right direction and kept me sane every time my brain began to suggest otherwise. big thanks to all the volunteers and volunteer groups who gave up part of, or in some cases all of, their weekend to ensure the safety and well being of the runners - Finger Lakes Runners Club, #TrailsRoc, the RNR/MPF team, Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Co, and Team FLRTC. Also, it was a pleasure sharing the trails with and talking to so many people during the early stages of the race, particularly Rusty, Rob, and Tom. And lots of thanks and gratitude to Ian Golden for once again working tirelessly to ensure that Virgil Crest remained a safe and well organized event on a challenging but beautiful course. I look forward to coming back to Virgil Crest in some capacity again year after year. 



Ian's compilation video:





Saturday, October 10, 2015

Virgil Crest Game Plan

[I've included here a separate post which is an exact copy of the Google Doc I provided to my crew. It lists my ETAs for every aid station and what I planned to do at each, the contents of my drop bags, and descriptions of the individual course sections. The document is posted here as it was originally written, errors and all. It's remarkable how accurate I was in predicting the ETAs - I listed times without really knowing what I was doing, and most of them were within a few minutes of my actual time. The only additional part is the miscellaneous photos at the end of the post. Click here and here to read two differently written accounts of my race experience.]

Virgil Crest 100 Race Itinerary

Listed here is what I think is my best strategy for completing the 100 miles, given my level of fitness, knowledge of the course, race rules, and safety precautions. Below is a breakdown of what I will hope to do at each of the 15 aid stations and a brief description of what I will be facing in between each one. It may sound a little long winded, but I want to provide as much detail as possible. Please keep in mind that we are guaranteed to be thrown curveballs mid-race and that everyone will NOT go exactly as planned. Where possible, I will try to provide backup plans for certain possible scenarios. I know the math is off a little on the cumulative mileage numbers listed below, but I thought it was easiest just to copy the numbers from Ian’s course description.

Pre-race: I will be heading out to the race HQ the night before for packet pickup and a pre-race briefing. All of my drop bags need to be turned by 19:30 on this night, so once I do that I won’t be able to re-arrange anything in the bags.  I’ll drop off all bags Saturday immediately before the race.

Bib# 471. Use this number for live tracking on VCU website. My cell phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx in case anyone needs it.

OB - Outbound
IB - Inbound
BCS - Best case scenario (if everything goes great, this is my fastest possible splits, estimated.)
For simplicity, time of day listed in military time.

Hope Lodge (Start, mile 0.0):
  • Race starts at 6:00 on Saturday, Sept 19, concurrently with the 50 mile race.
  • Location: Hope Lake Park, town of Virgil

Hitching Post OB (AS 1, mile 6.3):
  • Section distance: 6.3 miles
  • ETA: 7:15 (1:15 for section, 1:15 cumulative)
  • Location: 1 mile up the road from Hope Lake Park - corner of Clute Rd and Vinnedge Rd.

  • Course section description: Flat, paved walkway for 1 mile, followed by by moderately hilly cross country ski trails.

  • Big drop bag here, since I’ll be hitting this AS 4 times total. See below for drop bag contents.

  • Drop off headlamp here, ready to be picked up when I pass through the next time. I shouldn’t need anything from my bag at this time.

  • If possible, I’ll leave my Ultimate Direction pack here and swap my 20 oz. handheld for the pack on the way through. That way I won’t have to carry the pack for the first 6.3 miles when I won’t need it.

TenKate's Crossing OB (AS 2, mile 13.4):
  • Section distance: 7.1 miles
  • ETA: 8:40 (1:25 for section, 2:40 cumulative)
  • Location: Across from Gatherings on Rt. 392

  • Course section description: Hilly singletrack and ski trails, ending with a mile downhill on paved road (Carson Road, just around the corner from Gatherings.) Unmanned water stop at mile 10 (old Cortland 9).

  • Notes: Should be feeling pretty good upon arrival. Won’t need much except water and some AS fruit.


TrailsRoc Junction OB (AS 3, mile 20.2):
  • Section distance: 6.6 miles
  • ETA: 10:30 (1:50 for section, 4:30 cumulative)
  • Location: Corner of Valentine Hill Rd and Virgil Mountain Rd

  • Course section description: Section starts with a creek crossing that’s nearly dry. The ski slopes start here so I’ll be walking a lot. Hence the slow pace for the 5.7 miles. Unmanned water stop at mile 16.5 (utility road).

  • I’ll probably start feeling the first signs of fatigue here do to the cumulative uphill, which is around 2,900 feet for this section alone. I’ll have another big drop bag here that I’ll access 4 times throughout the race. See below for dropbag contents.

Rock Pile (AS 4, mile 25.0):
  • Section distance: 5.0 miles
  • ETA: 12:00 (1:30 for section, 6:00 cumulative)
  • Location: 0.5 miles uphill walk on white blazed FLT trail. Parking at trailhead on Bleck Rd

  • Course section description: Mostly singletrack, but with a long, gradual uphill on a dirt road in the middle (This part overlaps with the Forest Frolic course.) I’ve run up this dirt road before and it can be kind of mentally daunting - it lasts forever with nothing much to look at.

  • Notes: Getting to the rockpile will be a moral booster, as I’m now halfway done with loop 1, and 25% done with the race. The course will now reverse itself the same way, 25 miles back to the start. No drop bag here.

TrailsRoc Junction IB (AS 5, mile 30.0):
  • Section distance: 5.0 miles
  • ETA: 13:20 (1:20 for section, 7:20 cumulative). BCS - 13:00 / 7:00 cumulative.
  • Location: Corner of Valentine Hill Rd and Virgil Mountain Rd

  • Course section description: Mostly singletrack, but also with the pleasure of running back down the long dirt road.

  • Notes: I plan to make up some time here without ruining my quads. Passing the marathon mark into ultra territory will be another morale booster. Pick up crystallized ginger chews to carry for remainder of race, in case of stomach issues. See below for dropbag contents.

TenKate's Crossing IB (AS 6, mile 36.6):
  • Section distance: 6.6 miles
  • ETA: 15:20 (2:00 for section, 9:20 cumulative)  BCS  - 14:45 / 8:45 cumulative.
  • Location: Across from Gatherings on Rt. 392

  • Course section description: Back up and down the ski slopes, but in the reverse direction. Unmanned water stop at mile 33.5 (utility road).

  • Notes: I haven’t run this part prior to race day, but expect it to be difficult with a lot more walking. I’ll probably start getting passed by the relays teams if I haven’t already. It’s likely I’ll hit one or more low points during this stretch and will arrive at the AS in mentally rough shape.

Hitching Post IB (AS 7, mile 43.7):
  • Section distance: 7.1 miles
  • ETA: 17:20 (2:00 for section, 11:20 cumulative).  BCS  - 16:30 / 10:30 cumulative.
  • Location: 1 mile up the road from Hope Lake Park - corner of Clute Rd and Vinnedge Rd.

  • Big drop bag here, since I’ll be hitting this AS 4 times total. See below for drop bag contents.

  • Course section description: Beginning with a 1 mile paved road climb up on Carson Rd before turning left into the woods. Followed by hilly singletrack and ski trails. Unmanned water stop at mile 40 (old Cortland 9).

  • Notes: Pick up headlamp with spare batteries here, plus backup handheld flashlight. It will most likely get too dark on the trail during this section to run without it. Will want to take an extended break here, since the next 12.6 miles will basically be continuous. (Meaning no wasted time at Hope Lake, mile 50. See below.)  Meet Hayley, Gary, and Aaron for any assistance here. Gary will already be stationed here as volunteer. Upon leaving, crew can make their way down to Hope Lake to meet me at the halfway point. I’ll probably not feel like eating much solid food or gels from this point on. The cooler temps at night will hopefully make things feel a little easier.

  • This is the first AS where runners are allowed to pick up their pacers.


Hope Lake (AS 8, mile 50.0 (Halfway!):
  • Section distance: 6.3 miles
  • ETA: 19:00 (1:40 for section, 13:00 cumulative).  BCS  - 17:55 / 11:55 cumulative.
  • Location: Hope Lake Park, town of Virgil

  • Course section description: Moderately hilly cross country ski trails, ending with 1 mile of flat, paved walkway into the turnaround.

  • Notes: Halfway home! This is very important to me and not to be taken lightly - I will DEFINITELY be tempted to drop here, and the plan is to get in and out of Hope Lodge ASAP. That means I won’t be sitting down, taking any extended break, picking up or changing pacers, or messing around with drop bags. I need to stock up on food and water and then get out immediately. Pick up Gary as a pacer and head out quickly. Crew can meet me here and can then make their way back up Clute Road to find me at the Hitching Post. Small drop bag here with stuff for the finish line - I shouldn’t need to access the bag at mile 50.


Hitching Post OB (AS 9, mile 56.3):
  • Section distance: 6.3 miles
  • ETA: 20:50 (1:50 for section, 14:50 cumulative).  BCS  - 19:20 / 13:20 cumulative.
  • Big drop bag here, since I’ll be hitting this AS 4 times total. See below for drop bag contents.

  • Course section description: Flat, paved walkway for 1 mile, followed by by moderately hilly cross country ski trails

  • Notes: Meet crew here again. Will probably want to rest and take an extended break, after 12.6 miles of continuous running (Assuming no extended break at Hope Lake.) Gary will continue as pacer.

TenKate's Crossing OB (AS 10, mile 63.4):
  • Section distance: 7.1 miles
  • ETA: 22:50 (2:00 for section, 16:50 cumulative) BCS  - 21:10 / 15:10 cumulative.
  • Location: Across from Gatherings on Rt. 392

  • Course section description: Hilly singletrack and ski trails, ending with a mile downhill on paved road (Carson Road, just around the corner from Gatherings.) If my quads are shot, running down this “easy” paved road may be very slow and painful. Unmanned water stop at mile 60 (old Cortland 9).

  • Notes: Navigating in the dark after this long on my feet will probably make for a long section split. Not sure of a reasonable ETA. Switch pacers from Gary to Jeney for next 23 miles.

TrailsRoc Junction OB (AS 11, mile 70.2):
  • Section distance: 6.6 miles
  • ETA: 1:20 (2:30 for section, 19:20 cumulative).  BCS  - 23:10 / 17:10 cumulative.
  • Location: Corner of Valentine Hill Rd and Virgil Mountain Rd

  • Course section description: The ski slopes are revisited here, and this will be one of the tough stretches of the course, with ~2,900 ft of climbing and ~2,200 ft of descending. Section starts with a creek crossing that’s nearly dry. Unmanned water stop at mile 65.5 (utility road).

  • Notes: With any luck I’ll be in good enough shape to walk the steep hills at a semi-decent pace. Again, navigating in the dark after this long on my feet will probably make for a long section. Not sure of a reasonable ETA. Continue with Jeney pacing. See below for dropbag contents.


Rock Pile (AS 12, mile 75.0):
  • Section distance: 5.0 miles
  • ETA: 2:50 (1:30 for section, 20:50 cumulative).  BCS  - 00:30 / 18:30 cumulative.
  • Location: Steep uphill trail from Bleck Rd

  • Course section description: Mostly singletrack, but with a long, gradual uphill on a dirt road in the middle (This part overlaps with the Forest Frolic course.) I’ve run up this dirt road before and it can be kind of mentally daunting - it lasts forever with nothing much to look at, but in the dark I hope to be moving faster on the road than on the singletrack.

  • Notes: If I’m able to wrap my head around it, getting to the rockpile will be a moral booster, as I’m now halfway done with loop 2, and 75% done with the race. No drop bag here. Continue with Jeney pacing.

TrailsRoc Junction IB (AS 13, mile 80.0):
  • Section distance: 5.0 miles
  • ETA: 4:10 (1:20 for section, 22:10 cumulative).  BCS  - 1:50 / 19:50 cumulative.
  • Location: Corner of Valentine Hill Rd and Virgil Mountain Rd

  • Course section description: Mostly singletrack, but also with the pleasure of running back down the long dirt road. Unmanned water stop at mile  83.5 (utility road).

  • Notes: Quads (and entire body) will be so trashed by this time, running a decent pace down the dirt road might not be an option. I’ll pick up Aaron here to pace me for the final 20 miles. See below for drop bag contents. Continue with Jeney pacing.

TenKate's Crossing IB (AS 14, mile 86.6):
  • Section distance: 6.6 miles
  • ETA: 6:50 (2:40 for section, 24:50 cumulative).  BCS  - 3:50 / 21:50 cumulative.
  • Location: Across from Gatherings on Rt. 392

  • Course section description: Back to the ski slopes, but in the reverse direction.

  • Notes: With any luck I’ll be in good enough shape to walked them at a semi-decent pace. Again, navigating in the dark after this long on my feet will probably make for a long section. See below for dropbag contents. Switch pacers from Jeney to Aaron, who will continue to the finish.

Hitching Post IB (AS 15, mile 93.7):
  • Section distance: 7.1 miles
  • ETA: 8:50 (2:00 for section, 26:50 cumulative). BCS  - 5:30 / 23:30 cumulative.
  • Location: 1 mile up the road from Hope Lake Park - corner of Clute Rd and Vinnedge Rd.

  • Big drop bag here, since I’ll be hitting this AS 4 times total. See below for drop bag contents.

  • Course section description: Beginning with a 1 mile paved road climb up on Carson Rd before turning left into the woods. Followed by hilly singletrack and ski trails. Unmanned water stop at mile 90 (old Cortland 9).

  • Notes: I’ll drop off whatever gear I don’t need in order to lighten the load for the final section. Hopefully I’ll reach This AS before sunrise, but if not, the sunlight may speed things along. Meet Hayley here, who will then leave to meet me at the finish. Continue with Aaron as pacer.

Hope Lake (Finish. Mile 100!):
  • Section distance: 6.3 miles
  • ETA: 10:30 (1:40 for section, 28:30 cumulative).  BCS  - 6:50 / 24:50 cumulative.
  • Location: Hope Lake Park, town of Virgil

  • Course section description: Moderately hilly cross country ski trails, predominately downhill, ending with 1 mile of flat, paved walkway into the turnaround.

  • Notes: The downhill to the finish might be pretty painful. Hopefully I’ll be able to run the last flat stretch once I can see or hear the finish line. After finishing, I’ll likely be so hyped up that all the fatigue will have disappeared. Time for a belt buckle, a Dale Cooper massage, and stuffing calories in my face!
Gear List:

On My Person at Starting Line
  • Positive mental attitude
  • Suunto watch, fully charged
  • Shoes - Altra Lone Peak 2.0 (yellow)
  • Race bib, pinned to shorts
  • Altra gaiters
  • Nike shorts
  • FLRTC singlet
  • Bandana
  • Socks
  • Kokopelli tattoo
  • Headlamp
  • Justin’s nut butter packets - variety x 5
  • Caffeinated GU Roctane gels x 7
  • iPhone
  • Plastic ziplock for phone
  • UD vest
  • 20 oz bottles, filled with water (2)
  • UD handheld hand strap
  • wedding ring


Drop Bag # 1 - Hitching Post (AS# 1 / 7 / 9 / 15. Mile 6.3 / 43.7 /56.3 / 93.7)
Orange and black hiking backpack
  • Positive mental attitude
  • Handheld flashlight with fresh AA batteries (2)
  • Backup headlamp batteries - AAA (3)
  • Extra bandana x 2
  • Extra shirt x 2
  • Extra socks x 2
  • Extra shorts x 1
  • Tailwind scoops portioned out
  • Justin’s nut butter packets - variety (no PB)
  • Assorted gels
  • Yerba mate, half frozen
  • Picky bar x 1
  • Clif Shot Blocks x 1
  • Bag of coconut rolled dates
  • Larabars
  • Body Glide
  • Plastic bag
  • Towel


Drop bag # 2 - TrailsRoc Junction (AS# 3 / 5 / 11 / 13. Mile 20.2 / 30.0 / 70.2 / 80.0)
Blue duffel bag
  • Positive mental attitude
  • Extra bandana x 2
  • Extra shirt x 2
  • Extra socks x 2
  • Long sleeve shirt x 1
  • Tailwind scoops portioned out
  • Justin’s nut butter packets - variety (no PB)
  • Assorted gels
  • Yerba mate, half frozen
  • Larabars
  • Crystallized ginger chews
  • Honey Stinger pack x 1
  • Clif Shot Blocks x 1
  • Bonk Breaker bar x 1
  • Tooth brush
  • Travel toothpaste
  • Spray-on sunscreen
  • Extra shoes Salomon Sense Pro
  • Body Glide
  • Stick roller
  • Plastic bag
  • Suunto USB cable
  • Portable USB charger, fully charged
  • Towel


Drop bag # 3 - TenKate's Crossing (AS 2 / 6 / 10 / 14. Mile 13.4 / 36.6 / 63.4 / 86.6)
Black satchel with Cayuga Trails logo
  • Positive mental attitude
  • Extra bandana x 1
  • Extra shirt x 1
  • Extra socks x 1
  • Towel
  • Plastic bag
  • Tailwind scoops portioned out
  • Justin’s nut butter packets - variety (no PB)


Drop bag # 4 - Hope Lake - (AS 8. Mile 50 / finish)
Small orange and black bag
  • Positive mental attitude
  • Vega Bar
  • Sandals
  • Clean, dry VCU event shirt
  • Car key
  • Dry shorts

Leave in Car - Mile 101
Black Jansport backpack
  • Wallet
  • House keys
  • Clean shoes
  • Dry socks
  • Compression socks
  • Jacket

Leave with Hayley - Mile ?
  • Camping chair x 2
  • Avocado & hot sauce sandwich?
  • Extra shoes
  • Cold yerba mate
  • Spare car key
  • Crew map & directions
Need to Purchase

  • AAA batteries
  • Justin’s nut butter packets - variety (no PB)
  • Caffeinated GU Roctane gels
  • Bag of dates?
  • Vega bar
  • Crystallized ginger chews
  • Nut butter - Chocolate Hazelnut
  • AA batteries for handheld flashlight?





  • Gridley Creek Crossing. Photo: Gloria Lemus-Sanchez